MOGADISHU, Somalia – Extremists in Somalia have warned that they would try to kill any peacekeepers deployed to the war-ravaged country.
In a videotape posted on the official Web site of Somalia's routed Islamic movement Tuesday, a hooded gunman read a statement saying that any African peacekeepers would be seen as invaders.
As the videotaped threat was made, African leaders met in neighboring Ethiopia to discuss the deployment of 8,000 peacekeepers to Somalia. So far five nations — Uganda, Nigeria, Malawi, Burundi and Ghana — have pledged around 4,000 troops.
"Somalia is not a place where you will earn a salary — it is a place where you will die," one militant, carrying an assault rifle and dressed in military fatigues said in the warning to the peacekeepers. "The salary you are seeking will be used to transport your bodies." Five other hooded gunmen were visible, armed with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.
"We will not be intimidated," the top U.S. diplomat for Africa, Jendayi Frazer, told reporters at the African Union summit where the peacekeeping force was being discussed.
"Obviously, whenever you are going into a dangerous situation, it's prudent military planning to expect someone to attack you or your forces."
The authenticity of the videotape, which echoes those released in Iraq and Afghanistan by Islamic insurgents, could not be independently verified. It is the first time radical elements allied to the Islamic movement have posted video warnings on the Internet.
In the capital, Mogadishu, Deputy Defense Minister Salad Ali Jelle said Tuesday that security forces were on high alert and would crack down on rising unrest by increasing patrols on the streets and launching attacks against areas believed to be harboring militants from the Islamic movement.
"They will be dealt with severely," he told journalists.
Somalia's Islamic movement threatened to take control of Somalia and had confined the interim government to one farming town until neighboring Ethiopia intervened. The movement was quickly routed in the face of Ethiopian tanks and war planes but has vowed to continue an Iraq-style insurgency against mainly Christian Ethiopia.
Ethiopia began withdrawing its forces after installing the interim government in the capital, Mogadishu, but there were growing fears that without a rapid deployment of peacekeepers a power vacuum would see Somalia slide back into chaos.
The video was posted, according to the Web site, by a previously unknown group called the Popular Resistance Movement in the Land of the Two Migrations.
"We urge the African Union forces ... not to come to this country," said the statement read by the gunman. "You and those who had invaded our country are equal before our eyes."
The United States has accused the Islamic group of sheltering suspects in the 1998 Al Qaeda bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Usama bin Laden has said Somalia is a battleground in his war on the West. The U.S. launched two airstrikes against fleeing Islamic fighters, although details of the attacks are unknown.
Somalia has not had an effective national government since 1991, when warlords overthrew dictator Mohammed Siad Barre and then turned on one another, throwing the country into anarchy.
A transitional government was formed in 2004 with U.N. help in hopes of restoring order. But it has struggled to assert authority.